In the Sixties, Andre Previn was that rare thing, a superstar conductor. Back then, his orchestra was the LSO, in an age – from 1968 to 1979 – when classical musicians had their own television shows, and millions watched. He even appeared on the Morcambe and Wise show, a sure sign that that he’d captured English hearts. And he returned the love. Previn, talking on the phone from his apartment in New York, remembers his time in Surrey with fondness: “English village life I really took to. It was very small, there were no addresses. I lived in a place called The House. You can’t get more basic than that.”
Previn, now 82, is at the stage in an internationally renowned artist’s life when everyone wants to honour him, and no one can quite believe he’s still working. But, Previn says, “I haven’t got it in my head to retire. I am getting pretty old but lately in the last few years I’ve written things that I really like… I have many ambitions left not only as a composer but as a conductor too.” He continues to conduct around the world, and was back in London on the LSO podium earlier this year. He composes more and more: in recent years there have been opera versions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Brief Encounter, concertos and chamber music. Why the shift to composition? “I suppose it’s a hatred of airports.” Performance requires endless travel, which has lost its appeal.
Previn’s other forte? Wives. He’s had five, including Mia Farrow and the violinist Anne Sophie Mutter and has managed to stay friends with them all, something his friends wonder at, he says. Previn wrote a violin concerto for Mutter, the greatest violinist in the world in his opinion, and his closest friend – he would be “lost” without her. The concerto, he says, is a particular favourite of his recent compositions. And it is writing music that he loves that keeps him going: “I’ve been involved with music since I was 5 years old and I see no reason why that should change. I keep being driven on by my association with music.”
“In Confidence” with Andre Previn is on Sky Arts 1 HD on 7 April at 10pm. See sky.com/arts